A man opened fire in a Walmart in Virginia on Tuesday night, killing six people amid the bustle of pre-Thanksgiving shoppers before turning the gun on himself, police and witnesses said.
The mass killing at the Chesapeake store — one of the state’s largest cities, near seaside communities Norfolk and Virginia Beach — was the country’s second high-profile assault in a handful of days.
Ahead of the holidays and the biggest retail day of the year, Black Friday, local police are cautioning shoppers to be attentive.
“We want to remind people to be aware of their surroundings when shopping,” Dallas police spokeswoman Kristin Lowman said in an email. “As always, if you notice something out of the norm, never hesitate to call police for help or to make us aware of a suspicious situation.”
Dallas police increase their patrols each holiday season at high-traffic shopping areas and holiday events and locations across the city, Lowman said.
Alex del Carmen, associate dean of the School of Criminology at Tarleton State University and a national expert on law enforcement practices, said in an email it is not unusual to see police in malls, at major retail stores and in parking lots during the holiday. But he expects an increase in law enforcement and security personnel in most retail stores in the wake of the Virginia mass killing.
He said the best protection is common sense: “It is best to be aware of your surroundings, make smart decisions [that] have safety as a priority.”
Del Carmen also suggested parents have tough conversations with their children about what to do when faced with a threat.
“It is a family and community matter to stay safe, particularly during the holiday season,” he said.
According to an analysis by Guns Down America, there have been at least 536 incidents of gun violence since January 2020 in or around major grocery stores nationwide.
“Grocery retailers must do their part to help build a future with fewer guns and safer communities,” executive director Igor Volsky said in a news release. “I hope that as everyone heads into the holiday shopping season, they demand better of their community’s grocers and that major grocery retailers finally invest in community violence intervention programs.”
Walmart tweeted early Wednesday that it was “shocked at this tragic event.”
Law enforcement authorities said the shooter, who used a pistol, was a Walmart employee.
The slayings came three days after a person opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado, killing five people and wounding 17 — and more than three years after a gunman killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart.
In the aftermath of the El Paso shooting, Walmart discontinued sales of certain kinds of ammunition and asked that customers no longer openly carry firearms in its stores.
The holidays are also “optimal for thieves” who go to retail stores to prey on distracted shoppers, del Carmen said.
“They look for those shoppers that are so focused on the merchandise that they may leave their packages alone momentarily or perhaps even be so distracted that they lose their ability to sense imminent danger,” he said.
Dallas police offered additional tips for in-store holiday shoppers:
- Do not buy more than you can carry. Plan ahead by taking a friend with you or asking a store employee to help you carry your packages to the car.
- Save all receipts. Print and save all confirmations from your online purchases. Start a file folder to keep all receipts together and to help you verify credit card or bank statements as they come in.
- Don’t flash the cash. Consider alternative options to pay for your merchandise, such as one-time or multiple-use disposable credit cards or money orders, including at online stores.
- Wait until asked by a cashier before taking out your credit card or checkbook. An enterprising thief would love to shoulder surf to get your account information.
- Deter pickpockets. Carry your purse close to your body or your wallet inside a coat or pant pocket.
- Have your keys in hand when approaching your vehicle. Check the backseat and around the car before getting in.
- Tell a security guard or store employee if you see an unattended bag or package. The same applies if you are using mass transit.
- Do not leave packages visible in your car. Lock them in the trunk, or if possible, take them directly home.
- If you are shopping with children, make a plan in case you are separated from each other. Teach them to know they can ask mall personnel or store security employees if they need help. Have them memorize or keep your cellphone number handy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.